Discover the Richness of Chinese Regional Folk Music

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


Discover the different types of folk music from the various regions of China. From the peaceful and calming music of the north, to the lively and upbeat music of the south, there is a type of folk music for everyone to enjoy.

The Various Regions of China

The North

China is a vast country with a long and rich history. It is home to many different ethnic groups, each with their own unique culture and music. Chinese regional folk music reflects the diversity of the country, and each region has its own distinct sound.

The North
The music of Northern China is characterized by its strong rhythms and simple melodies. Traditional instruments include the sheng (a type of reed instrument), the erhu (a two-stringed fiddle), and the pipa (a four-stringed lute).

The music of the North is often lively and upbeat, making it perfect for dancing. Popular folk dances include the yangge (a group dance originating in Shaanxi province) and the dongbei (a folk dance from Northeast China).

The South
In contrast to the music of the North, Southern Chinese folk music is known for its gentle melodies and tranquil atmosphere. Traditional instruments include the guqin (a seven-stringed zither), the yueqin (a four-stringed plucked instrument), and the dizi (a transverse flute).

Southern Chinese folk music is often slow and relaxing, making it ideal for background music or meditation. Popular folk songs from the South include “Liang Zhu” (about two lovers who are separated by death) and “AnQi” (about a mother’s love for her child).

The East
The music of Eastern China is a mix of both northern and southern traditions. As such, it shares many of the same characteristics as both styles of music. Traditional instruments include the erhu, the pipa, and the dizi.

Eastern Chinese folk music often has a light and airy sound, with a moderate tempo that makes it suitable for both dancing and listening. Some popular folk songs from this region include “Hua Diao Yue” (about a young girl in love) and “Jiu Kuai Le” (about a drinking song).

The Northeast

The Northeast is one of the most musically diverse regions of China. The music of the region is characterized by its folk roots and regional diversity. The music of the Northeast consists of a wide variety of folk styles, including Liùyīn (流音), a form of classical Chinese music; and Qīngyīn (清音), a more modern style of music.

The region’s folk music is heavily influenced by the music of Central Asia, as well as by the Mongols and Manchus who once inhabited the area. The region’s musical instruments include the sheng (笙), a type of wind instrument; the erhu (二胡), a two-stringed fiddle; and the zhonghu (中胡), a four-stringed fiddle.

The Northeast is home to a number of important musical ensembles, including the Shenyang Symphony Orchestra, the Harbin Symphony Orchestra, and the Changchun Symphony Orchestra.

The Central Plains

The Central Plains is the cultural and economic heart of China. This densely populated region is home to some of the country’s most iconic landmarks, including the Great Wall of China and the Forbidden City. The Central Plains is also the birthplace of Chinese civilization, with a history that dates back more than 3,000 years.

The Central Plains is divided into two sub-regions: the North China Plain and the Yangtze River Plain. The North China Plain is a flat, fertile plain that covers much of northern China. The Yangtze River Plain is a more hilly region that extends from central China to the coast.

Both sub-regions are home to a diverse array of Chinese folk music styles. The North China Plain is particularly renowned for its folk songs, which are often fetching and melancholy. The Yangtze River Plain, meanwhile, is known for its lively folk dances and drums songs.

The Southwest

The southwest of China is home to a large number of ethnic minorities, each with their own unique music and musical instruments. The music of the Han Chinese, the largest ethnic group in China, is also prevalent in the southwest. This region is known for its strong influence from Tibetan music as well as music from other neighboring countries such as Burma (Myanmar), India, and Nepal.

The Different Types of Folk Music

The Chinese folk music scene is very diverse, with different regions of the country having their own distinct styles. In general, folk music is passed down through the generations orally, with each region having its own unique musical traditions. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the different types of folk music found in China.

Work Songs

Work songs are usually sung by laborers while working. The lyrics are usually about the work they are doing or a story that is related to the work. Work songs were very popular in the United States during the 1800s, particularly in the South. Many of these songs were created by African American slaves and then later adopted by white Americans. Some well-known work songs include “Boll Weevil,” “Rock Island Line,” and “John Henry.”


Ballads are one of the most popular and well-known types of folk music. Often passed down from generation to generation, they tell stories of love, loss, and adventure. Some ballads even date back hundreds of years. In China, there are many regional variations of this type of folk song, each with its own unique flavor.

One of the most famous Chinese ballads is “The Tale of the Red Cliff,” which tells the story of the Battle of Red Cliffs (also known as the Battle of Chibi) during the Three Kingdoms period. This epic ballad is often performed at festivals and other special occasions.

Other popular ballads include “The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl,” a love story that is part of Chinese folklore, and “Mulan,” a folktale about a young woman who disguises herself as a man in order to take her sick father’s place in the army.

Whether they are telling a tragic tale or a romantic one, ballads are an important part of Chinese culture and regional folk music.

Religious Music

Religious music is an important part of folk music, and it can be found in many different forms. Protestant hymns are very common in the United States, and they often have a very simple melody that is easy to sing along with. Catholic religious music is often more ornate, and it often includes the use of Latin. In China, religious folk music is often found in the form of Buddhist chants.

Love Songs

One of the most popular types of folk music are love songs. These songs often tell stories of young lovers who are separated by circumstance but continue to pine for each other. Many of these songs are sad, but some have a more optimistic outlook. Love songs can be found in almost every region of China, and they often reflect the local culture and traditions.

Some well-known love songs include “The Willow Tree” from Shandong province, “The Drummer Boy” from Henan province, and “The Moon Represents My Heart” from Taiwan. Love songs often use traditional instruments such as the erhu (a two-stringed violin), Pipa (a four-stringed lute), or dizi (a flute).

The Instruments Used in Folk Music

String Instruments

The Chinese music scene is incredibly varied, with different regions having their own unique sounds and traditions. One of the most distinctive aspects of Chinese music is the use of traditional instruments, many of which are used in folk music. Here are some of the most common string instruments you’ll find in Chinese folk music:

-Erhu: Also known as the “Chinese violin,” the erhu is a two-stringed instrument that dates back to the Tang Dynasty. It’s one of the most popular instruments in Chinese music and is often used in solo or chamber performances.
-Zhonghu: The zhonghu is a fretless bowed string instrument that is similar to the erhu. It has a lower range than the erhu and is often used in ensemble performances.
-Banhu: The banhu is a two-stringed fiddle that originated in the north of China. It has a distinctively bright sound and is often used in folk music from this region.
– Jinghu: The jinghu is another bowed string instrument, though it has only one string. It originated in Jiangsu province and is often used in regional opera performances.
-Dagu: The dagu is a large drum that is usually played with two sticks. It has a deep, resonant sound and is often used to keep time in ensemble performances.

Wind Instruments

Wind instruments are some of the most commonly used instruments in folk music, and they come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Some of the most popular wind instruments used in Chinese regional folk music include the dizi (flute), sheng (mouth organ), suona (oboe), and xiao (vertical flute).

The dizi is a popular flute-like instrument that is often used in Chinese folk music. It is usually made of bamboo, and it has a high, clear sound that can be both mellow and piercing. The sheng is a type of mouth organ that has been used in China for over 2,000 years. It is made of a series of bamboo pipes of varying lengths that are attached to a wind chamber. The suona is a type of oboe that is also commonly used in Chinese folk music. It has a loud, piercing sound that is often used to signal the beginning or end of a performance. The xiao is a type of vertical flute that is made of bamboo. It has a soothing, mellow sound that is often used as background music in Chinese operas.

Percussion Instruments

Percussion instruments are an important part of Chinese regional folk music. These instruments provide the rhythm and beat that helps to create the distinctive sound of each region’s music.

The most common percussion instrument in Chinese regional folk music is the gongs. Gongs come in a variety of sizes and shapes, and are made from different materials. The largest gongs are usually made from bronze, while smaller gongs can be made from iron, steel, or even bamboo.

Gongs are usually played with mallets, but can also be played with drumsticks or bare hands. The sound of a gong can be very loud, or very soft, depending on how it is played.

Other common percussion instruments used in Chinese regional folk music include drums, cymbals, and clappers. Drums come in many different sizes and shapes, and are usually made from wood or hide. Cymbals are usually made from bronze or brass, and clappers can be made from wood, bone, or metal.

The Influence of Folk Music on Modern Chinese Music

While Chinese folk music has been around for centuries, it has only gained popularity in recent years. This is due to the increasing influence of folk music on modern Chinese music. Folk music has always been an important part of Chinese culture, and it has played a significant role in the development of Chinese music.

The Use of Regional Folk Music in Contemporary Pop Songs

The use of regional folk music in contemporary pop songs is not a new phenomenon in China. For decades, Chinese singers have been incorporating elements of folk music from different regions of the country into their own songs, often with great success.

One of the most famous examples is the song “The Moon Represents My Heart” (月亮代表我的心), which was originally written in the 1960s as a Taiwanese folk song. The song became extremely popular in mainland China in the 1990s when it was covered by pop singer Teresa Teng (邓丽君).

In recent years, we have seen an increase in the number of contemporary pop songs that make use of regional folk music from all over China. This trend is likely a result of the growing popularity of Chinese traditional music and the increasing awareness of the richness and diversity of China’s regional folk music traditions.

Some of the most notable examples of contemporary pop songs that make use of regional folk music include:

“Moonlight over Suzhou” (苏州月光) – This song, which was featured in the blockbuster film “Detective Chinatown 2”, combines elements of Suzhou opera with modern pop production values.

“Bujing Yanyun” (不敬天运) – This hit song from singer Wang Liwei (王力希) makes use of traditional instruments from Yunnan Province, such as the bawu and erhu.

” Midnight Train ” (午夜火车) – This popular song by Jay Chou (周杰伦) incorporates elements of Hakka folk music from Taiwan.

The Use of Traditional Instruments in Modern Music

Folk music has always been an integral part of Chinese culture, and it is no surprise that many of these traditional tunes have made their way into modern Chinese music. While some argue that the use of traditional instruments in modern music takes away from the originality of the composition, others believe that it adds a sense of authenticity and richness to the music.

There are a number of ways in which traditional instruments can be used in modern music. The most obvious way is to simply include traditional instruments in the composition itself. This could mean anything from using a traditional Chinese flute as the lead melody instrument in a pop song to incorporating the sounds of erhu and pipa into an electronic dance track.

Another way to use traditional instruments in modern music is to use them as inspiration for the sound or composition of the piece. For example, many modern Chinese composers have been inspired by the pentatonic scale often used in folk music, leading to the creation of entire pieces built around this scale. Similarly, the unique timbres of Chinese percussion instruments such as gongs and cymbals have also been employed by many contemporary musicians looking to add an exotic touch to their music.

Similar Posts